Winter in Israel differs from the drab,
depressing and frosty months in some places. After autumn seeding at the
beginning of the rainy season, the showers increase into heavy winter rains,
causing the crops to grow. The rain should continue into spring, when the
latter rain matures the grain for harvest. However, weather in the holy land is
as unpredictable as the hearts of the children of Israel, so when rainfall
becomes sporadic or when there is no latter rain, many of the crops fail to
ripen, resulting in a poor harvest. In biblical times, this was a reflection of
God’s displeasure with His people (Jer 3:3).
So on one hand, winter is the
gateway to fruitfulness and vitality; on the other hand, it can be a time of
trepidation. Hence, winter is a time of waiting—either in joyful expectation of
renewal or with repentant prayer for restoration. In either case, it is a time
of looking to God to fulfill His promises when spring arrives.
In the temperate regions of the world,
autumn is a time of transition. As the air chills, the leaves turn to gold and
fall from the trees. Animals begin to store food, or fatten themselves up,
ready for hibernation. In times past, many cultures would store provisions to
see them through the lean winter months, so a bountiful autumn harvest was crucial
to their preparations.
In Palestine, autumn is the time of the
early rain—showers which soften the ground after the dry and arid summer. This
prepares the soil so that farmers can plough and sow their fields. If there is
no early rain, the ground would be unable to absorb any heavy deluges. Once the
seed is planted, the farmer only has to wait patiently for springtime, when the
crops will grow. Rather than a darkening time of approaching hardship, autumn
is in fact a time of hope and preparation for the future.
be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. (Jas 5:7)
The writers of the Bible saw the giving of
rain as a sign of God’s faithfulness and providence. In spiritual terms, the autumn
showers point to the depth of God’s love and grace in that He has already prepared
the ground for the salvation of His elect.
The roots of God’s salvation plan, planted
before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), is seeded throughout the history and
prophecies of the Old Testament. Without fail, many of these promises have blossomed
and borne fruit in the events of the New Testament and in the end time. The
rest will surely come to pass—all we
need to do is trust God’s word, and ensure that our faith is built on the
foundation laid by Christ.
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“Thus the LORD GOD showed me: Behold a basket of summer fruit…”The end has come upon My people…”” (Amos 8:1)
Soaring temperatures in the land of Israel during the long and rainless summer expose its inhabitants to the perils of heatstroke. The burdensome “heat of the day” (Mt 20:12), as opposed to the “cool of the day” (Gen 3:8) points to the result of sin, but also to the saving grace of God, reminiscent of the wilderness journey in the scorching sun but shaded “under the cloud” (Num 14:14; 1 Cor 10:1) .
The blazing heat in Israel is used by Isaiah for an eschatological message. As the world heads towards the inevitable, when “the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Pet 3:10), the prophet describes the blessed state of the elect, later echoed by John: “They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them” (Is 40:10; Rev 7:16).
As the chosen ones of God who live in the end times, we constantly experience the “heat of the day” in the form of various challenges to our faith. What are these challenges? How can we overcome them? How does God shade us from the scorching sun? More importantly, how should we prepare ourselves for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how do we find true spiritual fulfillment as described by Elder John?
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Scripture reveals to us that at one point in Jewish history God lamented, “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land” (Hos 4:1). He further mourned, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6a). Note that these grievances were not directed at the entire world; they were specific charges against God’s chosen people. God had an expectation of His beloved people, and they did not live up to it. Rather than walking in His ways, they betrayed the true and living God to join themselves to idols, harlotry, and wickedness (Hos 4:2,12). No wonder God’s “heart churns within [Him]” (Hos 11:8).
The apostolic church also stressed the importance of growing in spiritual knowledge. In the middle of a discourse concerning Jesus Christ as our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, the author of Hebrews digresses to reprove the members for their declining faith. The author bemoans, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God” (Heb 5:12). It is clear the apostles also had expectations of the members. A lengthier time in Christ should naturally beget knowledgeable and mature believers—believers who would be able to instruct others. Instead, the members remained unskilled in the word, unable to discern, and dithered on the elementary principles of Christ (Heb 5:13–14; 6:1). The way the author continues also suggests these believers had regressed to the point of being borderline apostates (cf. Heb 6:4–8).
The people of God were “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” What about us? What are the things that we must know to ensure our salvation? Do we lack this knowledge? Do our children lack knowledge? Does our church lack knowledge? God was pained over that generation. How does He see ours?
Making Time for God
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In the blink of an eye, another
new year is upon us. At this point, we will usually look back and reflect on
what we have achieved over the past year. Some will be satisfied that they have
made the most of their time, while others will be disappointed that they did
not reach their desired goals. Sadly, our personal ambitions often become
buried under the more mundane dealings of life—and this is especially true of
our spiritual ambitions.
Many will recognize the feeling
that time is always against them, whether they are a student working to
deadline, a professional juggling multiple projects, or a parent managing a
chaotic household. It can often seem like there are not enough hours in a day. As
Christians, we also have the duty to cultivate our spirituality and serve the
Lord. But when our time and energy are limited, our faithfulness and service
towards God are usually the first to suffer. After all, we think we can always
draw closer to God later on, when we have more time. But is this really the
Integrating Faith with Life
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If someone asked us whether we professed any religion, we may instinctively reply, “I believe in God” or “I’m a Christian.” At such a reply, how often does the questioner demonstrate a desire to find out more about our faith?
A True Jesus Church member was once asked by her colleagues, “How are you always able to remain so joyful and caring toward others despite your busy workload? “ Her selflessness and diligence at the workplace had clearly impressed her colleagues and soon led to a conversation about how her faith enabled her to be so exemplary.
Jesus gave us this principle to live by, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Mt 5:16). In order to shine for Jesus, we must integrate our faith into our lives, rather than separate the two. Faith is not something we practice only once a week. In this issue, our writers look at how our faith must be infused into every part and every moment of our lives.
The term “faith” sometimes feels too abstract to grasp, let alone manifest in our lives. But if we think about it, faith consists of three crucial elements: biblical knowledge, belief, and practical application of God’s will.
First, biblical knowledge forms the foundation of our faith—it allows us to know God and His will. Without a solid foundation, we will easily deviate from the truth and always remain a spiritual infant. We live in a world where the lines between right and wrong are increasingly blurred. Satan relentlessly tries to tempt us to cross the boundary between holiness and sin. To overcome these, we must be well-grounded and steadfast in God’s word. We must find time to read the Bible, listen to sermons, and study the Bible with others to better know God and His teachings.
However, if our faith only consists of biblical knowledge, we are like the scribes and Pharisees. We know the minutest statute and regulation but understand little of the intent behind God’s commands. We spend much time studying the Bible, but do not truly believe God’s word or use it to improve ourselves. The second critical element is thus belief in God’s truth. The author of the book of Hebrews warns us, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Heb 4:2).
Finally, we must translate our Bible knowledge and belief into a walk worthy of our calling. We must apply God’s word to our daily life and live for the Lord; not just once a week in church, but at all times and wherever we are.
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He entrusted two great
commissions to His disciples: to preach the gospel, and to pastor His sheep.
The Lord’s disciples took up the first commission and preached the gospel from
Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Why did these
disciples have such a fervent heart, overcoming all difficulties in order to
complete this commission? It was because they were effectively trained by Jesus.
When He had first begun to preach the gospel, Jesus chose and called His disciples
to follow Him. He later sent them forth to preach the gospel. Within the three
years of His ministry, He also spent time with them so that they could witness
His compassion—how He preached the heavenly gospel, revealed the authority of
the heavenly kingdom, healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the hungry, and
solved man’s problems. His resurrection and ascension gave man a living hope.
The disciples saw, heard and touched the manifested Christ. They had a deep
understanding and a vivid experience of the Lord Jesus (1 Jn 1:1–3). Preaching
the gospel was proclaiming the Lord Jesus who had dwelled with them. The
disciples each shared a deep love and a personal relationship with Him.
Preaching the gospel not only fulfills Jesus’ command, but repays His love. If
we preach with such a heart, then our deeds will be pleasing to the Lord.
Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love Me?” And three times, Jesus
commanded Peter to nurture His sheep (Jn 21:15–17). To love the Lord is to be
entrusted with the most important task of pastoring His sheep. Jesus is the Good
Shepherd, sacrificing His life for the sheep. When His love fills us, we can
love those whom He loves. Jesus’ greatest love was revealed on Golgotha.
Paul says, “For if we are beside
ourselves, it is for
God” (2 Cor 5:13a). By pondering over the salvation grace we have received,
counting God’s blessings, praying unceasingly, and submitting to the Holy
Spirit, we will be filled with the love of God, which enables us to make sacrifices
for the sheep. This is how Paul could genuinely care for the believers, spending
and being spent for them, watching and praying unceasingly for their spiritual
Accomplishing these two great commissions goes beyond studying theology,
or holding seminars on the duties of a disciple. What is more important is to
establish a personal relationship with Jesus. For He said, “If anyone loves Me,
he will keep My word” (Jn 14:23a). If we do this, then we can fulfill Jesus’
commission. He also instructed, “[Teach] them
to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you
always, even to the
end of the age” (Mt 28:20). If we, as disciples of Christ, establish a close and personal
relationship with Him, and zealously strive to accomplish the commission which He
has entrusted to us, He will continually sustain us in our service.
Growth—science tells us—delineates the living and non-living. All living things grow; the non-living do not. A pebble does not grow up to become a rock and then a mighty boulder. But little acorns become tender saplings and, in time, great oaks. Newborns become adolescents, adults, and eventually the aged.
Generally, when physiological growth is accompanied by intellectual, emotional, or social development, we say that the person has matured. In particular, parents hope that children do not just grow, but mature because then, these offspring will make the right choices to give themselves a good life.
Growth and maturity are just as indispensable in the spiritual sense. Before we came to know Christ, we were dead in sin. But the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice has given us life anew. Since we are spiritually living, then we ought to spiritually grow. And like any anxious parent, the heavenly Father hopes that we not only grow but attain spiritual maturity for there is much at stake. The mature will know the right path to take towards eternal life. The immature are easily led astray and quickly devoured by the evil one.
But precociousness is sometimes mistaken for maturity. A child who dresses like an adult and parrots adult speech is still not a true adult. So what is true spiritual maturity? How can we attain it?
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Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1 Cor 15:1–2)
Imagine how sad it would be for an athlete on course for a hundred-meter victory to stumble at the last hurdle. It is for good reason, then, that Paul says that our faith journey would be in vain if we suddenly turned our backs on God; we would be the most pitiable of people.
During the time of the apostles, the believers were often fiercely persecuted. While the persecution did not cause the church to crumble entirely, it did give rise to irreversible damage, especially towards the turn of the first century. Satan made use of man—false teachers, to be precise—to undermine the church.
here were two types of false prophets. One type comprised people from outside the community of faith; the other was from within (Acts 20:29–30). Concerning the latter, the deceivers disguised themselves in order to infiltrate the church with their destructive heresies. They went on the offensive, using trickery and deceitful plotting (Eph 4:14), causing the church to be scarred (cf. Gal 1–2; Col 1–2; Rev 2–3) and the believers to be unsettled (Acts 15:24; Gal 1:7). The greatest challenge for the apostolic church became a test of faithfulness to God’s word.
The moral from history is the need to stand firm. It entails being rooted in Christ and in His word. God is more than able to save us to the end—to grant us the salvation of our souls. However, we must do our part: we must continuously yield to the word that we received in the beginning and keep it to the end (1 Cor 15:1–2). Standing firm becomes all the more pertinent as we know that Satan has been thrown down from heaven and is attacking the church of God (Rev 12:12) prior to the second coming of Christ.
We thank the almighty God for touching many members to put their thoughts into writing for the edification of the church. Their articles, which appear in the themed section, exhort believers to hold on to the truth that was given to the church once and for all, and remind them to resist subtle worldly allurements.
Let us pray for the Spirit’s empowerment so that we can hold on to our initial faith to the very end.